Are you drinking too much water?
Wait… don’t you mean “are you getting enough water?” Nope. I really mean: Are you drinking too much water? Didn’t think drinking too much water was even possible, did you? That’s not surprising in a world that tells us water is king. But did you know that the whole “8 glasses a day” thing is a myth? And did you know that you can be drinking too much water AND doing some major damage to your body if you over do the H20?
Are you drinking too much water?
- Do you carry around a water bottle to drink throughout the day?
- Do you think drinking a tall glass of water will help curb your appetite?
- Do you pee frequently, including during the night?
- Is your pee clear as the day is long?
- Do you think that’s a good thing?
If you said “yes” to any of the above questions, chances are you are drinking too much water.
But water is essential for life!
I know. I know. Water is good. It’s essential, even. So please don’t take this as a “water is bad” post. Water is good… if it’s in the right amount. And it can be bad if it’s not. Really bad.
Drinking too much water: Water Intoxication
Rapid intake of too much water floods the inside of cells when sodium is depleted. This sodium depletion, called hyponatremia, can rupture the cells, either from extra pressure on the cells from without, or from pressure within flooded cells. As cells rupture in various parts of the body, certain symptoms emerge, and usually quickly.
What kind of symptoms? Well, things like vomiting, headaches, confusion and disorientation. If things progress this can lead to more serious things like seizures and coma. Untreated cases have resulted in death. (Like this recent case, or these other sad cases, for example).
Of course these are extreme situations of water intoxication. Generally speaking, we hit the danger zone when we drink too much water and take in more than what our kidneys can process in a hour. And for someone with extremely healthy kidneys that is about 30 oz. of water in a hour (please don’t drink that much!). Drinking too much water in rapid succession can prove fatal and should definitely be avoided.
But you don’t drink THAT much so you’re okay, right?
I’m hoping that anyone reading this blog isn’t doing anything extreme in the name of health. Extreme diets are probably more dangerous than sitting on your butt all day and eating junk (not that I recommend doing that). So even though you’re probably not in danger of dying from water intoxication doesn’t mean you can’t improve your health by getting the right amount of water instead of just more.
Drinking too much water: How much is too much?
Like most health conscious folks I was diligent with my water intake. I carried a water bottle with me almost everywhere. I always had a tall glass next to me as I worked at the computer. I never drank soda, punch, coffee or alcohol (still don’t). Other than a glass of milk at breakfast, every other meal was washed down with good ol’ H20.
My world was rocked when I finally realized that I was drinking too much water. I also learned that drinking too much water can do some damage long before you ever enter the danger zone of death by water intoxication.
Drinking too much water can lead to:
- Decreased metabolism
- Decreased mental clarity
- Cold hands/feet
- Decreased emotional well being
So you know… too much water can basically put a major wrench in your day… not to mention your health.
For me, drinking too much water meant I as up once or twice a night to pee… that I dealt with insomnia… and that I was always SO COLD. Once I figured I was drinking too much water I was able to make some awesome changes that made me feel so much better. More on that in a bit.
But, first, what about dehydration?
Water is important, but most of us probably don’t need 8 glasses a day. In fact, scientifically speaking, there is no real evidence that suggests this number has any real benefit.
“Drink your weight in water” and other lies.
A few years ago Heinz Valtin, a kidney specialist from Dartmouth Medical School, wanted to know if the common advice to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day could hold up to scientific scrutiny.
After scouring the peer-reviewed literature, Valtin concluded that no scientific studies support the “eight x eight” dictum (for healthy adults living in temperate climates and doing mild exercise).
In fact, he found that drinking this much or more “could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants, and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough. Not a single scientific report published in a peer-reviewed publication has proven the contrary.” (American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiolog, 2002).
Dr. Margaret McCartney in the British Medical Journal discusses research which reveals how drinking when not thirsty can impair concentration, rather than boost it.
Glasgow-based GP Margaret McCartney says the NHS Choices website’s advice that people should drink six to eight glasses a day is ‘not only nonsense, but thoroughly debunked nonsense’. She adds that the benefits of the drink are often exaggerated by ‘organisations with vested interests’ such as bottled water brands.
And while we’re debunking the 8 glasses a day myth, let’s talk about two other water-related falsehood:
Myth 1. Thirst is a sign you’re already dehydrated.
It is often stated that by the time people are thirsty, they are too late. But according to Valtin, thirst begins when the concentration of blood (an accurate indicator of our state of hydration) has risen by less than two percent, whereas most experts would define dehydration as beginning when that concentration has risen by at least five percent. In other words: Thirst is a good sign to start drinking water. No need to guzzle before you feel the need.
Myth 2. Dark urine means you’re dehydrated.
Lately I’ve seen a “pee guide” going around the social media outlets. Seems most people are aiming for clear pee. But at normal urinary volume and color (meaning, there IS color), the concentration of the blood is within the normal range and nowhere near the values that are seen in meaningful dehydration. As Valtin explains, “the warning that dark urine reflects dehydration is alarmist and false in most instances.”
So how much water should I drink?
That’s actually not an easy question to answer (and I’m not a doctor, so please don’t ask me how much water you should be drinking). So many factors affect our needs from what we eat to the weather. Obviously there are times when more water is appropriate, like after/before intense exercise or if you are in extreme heat. In other words: If you body is losing water (like sweating), then replenishing those fluids is essential. .. But unless you are an extreme athlete or spend a lot of time in a hot climates you probably need less than what you’ve been previously told.
Listen to your body. This is my “go to” advice for most health practices because our body is packed full of useful signals to help us keep it happy… with one little snag: The problem with over-hydration is that a symptom of drinking too much is dry mouth and excessive thirst. So there may be a period of “challenging your body’s signals” while it gets back to a more balanced state.
I like Matt Stone’s advice for this one:
If you have very clear urine and some health problems like anxiety, chronic fatigue, migraines, yada yada, you should work hard to get some color back into your urine – in effect increasing the glucose and electrolyte concentration of your cells. I’m not talking about dehydration, just ideal hydration.
If you are peeing a lot, make sure you’re getting adequate salt into your diet, too (as over-hydration means we have an imbalance of our salt to water ratio). Don’t skimp on the real salt, people. And don’t feel like you have to “wash down” everything you eat.
I’d also recommend reading The Nourished Metabolism if you want some practical advice on getting your body and fluids at the optimal level.
I improved my health by drinking LESS water
As someone who has always had extremely low blood pressure (something our medical world doesn’t pay much attention to because there’s no drug for it), chronic insomnia, frequent night pees, and a water fetish… I started putting the puzzle pieces together. I was definitely drinking too much water. And it’s been a gradual process to find what works for my body. I’m getting better at listening and responding to my body’s signals and hydrating more appropriately. And guess what?
- I sleep WAY better
- I don’t get up to pee throughout the night (Hallelujah!)
- I get fewer headaches
- I have more energy
- I think clearer
- My ridiculously low blood pressure has come into a normal range!
So yeah, I was drinking too much water, but then I started listening to my body and found a much more balanced place.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Excessive thirst is a cardinal sign of dangerously high blood glucose levels that REQUIRE medical attention. An undiagnosed diabetic may have a blood sugar level of 600 and not know it, and their body’s way of diluting the sugar is excessive water consumption. It’s always best to talk to a health care professional if you have any doubts.
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